Self-regulation: a fancy way of saying how to calm yourself down, body and mind.
Self-regulation comes easier for some people, harder for others. If I think about the number of social situations we navigate on a daily basis, it’s no wonder people can struggle with remaining cool and collected at any given moment!
At times, our five year old can really struggle with self-regulation, and how to feel safe in certain situations.
We noticed this for the first time when M. was a few weeks old. The Vermont City Marathon was taking place, and we went to watch. Though he slept through the whole thing, by the time we returned home he was screaming and crying. Two hours later, he was still screaming. Finally, our tiny baby ceased his wailing, nursed, and fell back asleep. Frazzled to the core ourselves (we were brandy new parents after all, and thought we broke our child) I began to look up reasons why this would happen. Good old Dr. Brazelton and his book Touchpoints explained it all – when infants feel overwhelmed, they reset their nervous system through crying and yelling. And there’s nothing, absolutely nothing dear parent, you can do except wait it out.
Fast forward five years and we can still see these tendencies in our son in certain situations. Major transitions (pre school ending, kindergarten starting, the birth of his sibling), large crowds of people coming towards him, and sheer excitement over things like candy flying out of a piñata are enough to send our boy into a state. Knowing this about him, we have begun to employ a number of different methods and activities to help our child self-regulate when these moments happen.
The Insight App
This app was brought to my attention by an acquaintance and I am so happy to have it. It does cost $4.99 through the app store, but for us, it is worth every penny. I originally downloaded it for myself, as a way to practice mindfulness and meditation techniques, but it has made it’s way as part of our bedtime routine. Every night after reading books, we listen together to the Mountain Meditation. More often than not M. is usually asleep by the end of it.
This one is a no brainer for us since I absolutely love books, and can be accused by some (yes you, dear husband) of hoarding. We have a number of books at our house from board books up to chapter, though my son currently tends to gravitate towards non-fiction literature on geology or space, and picture books. He will sit in his room and flip through the pages, quietly relaxing and having a calm moment.
M’s pre school teachers discovered this one for him. Introducing him to real clay (not play dough or Sculpy) was huge. They found that using clay could be centering and calming, and something he enjoyed for a bit of time. My basement is proof, with the box of tiny sculptures made throughout the school year! While we don’t have clay at home, we do have modeling clay (harder to work with, but great for the sensory input of pushing and squeezing) and Sculpy – the best part about Sculpy for M. is that it can be baked and turned into little objects, which yes, can wind up all over our house, but that is okay by us.
4. Martial Arts/Yoga/Gymnastics
This past January we enrolled our son in Kempo, a martial art. We also frequent yoga classes as much as we can, and in the past M. was enrolled in gymnastics. These movement activities specifically, help to focus the mind and body to pay attention to space, surroundings, and emotions.
We have a few different “fidgets” that we use when we need a moment to calm down and focus on something. The bubble timer is our favorite, allowing the viewer to hold and watch as different colored “bubbles” travel down a diagonal track. Sit and watch this for a few minutes and it’s very calming!
6. Drawing and Coloring
An amazing standby, easy and portable. I love watching our son draw and see the inventive ideas he comes up with. Much like clay, this can keep him focused for quite a long time. And the bonus is that afterwards, we have a gem of a picture with a funny story to go with it.
There are lots of other strategies for teaching self-regulation to a young child!
There are programs out there such the ones from Social Thinking, entitled Zones of Regulation, and We Thinkers! (formally known as The Incredible Flexible You), which are geared towards younger children. There is also the Alert Program’s How Does Your Engine Run? If we feel like we need to use any of those in the future I’m sure we will, but for now the strategies listed above are ones that help our child. Hopefully you can find some that work for you too!